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Persuading poorly pups to eat

Friends of mine who live outside of the UK has taken on a foster puppy. It has been delightful to their photos and video of the delightful puppy going at life full tilt in the way puppies usually do. Except of course that bearing in mind the fate of many dogs in this particular country, this puppy is lucky to be having such a carefree start to life with the promise of a happy adulthood.

So it was horrible to hear that the puppy had fallen ill, and awful when the vet diagnosed canine parvovirus. Commonly known as parvo, this very infectious virus usually gives a puppy a very nasty upset stomach, although it can attack the heart. Although there is a vaccination which can protect dogs, since it is a virus there is no cure once a dog is infected. We can treat the symptoms and hope, which is what my poor friends had to do, knowing that 30% of adult dogs survive parvo, but in puppies the survival rate is lower.

Sometimes a dog suffering from parvo dies from dehydration, due to the diarrhoea and vomiting, so my friends were kept busy getting water into their small, poorly charge. The puppy made it through day after day, and the vet began to hope she would make it. Then the challenge was on to get her drinking and eating for herself. The drinking could be got around by a drip and injections, but the eating the pup had to do for herself.

When our Star was feeling very rough and sorry for herself after TPLO surgery, which left her in pain, we had to find ways to tempt her to eat in order to dose her with painkiller, as well as to keep her strength up. Regular dog food apparently held no appeal for her, and one evening, I cut the end of the baked potato smothered in cheese which I was tucking into, and offered it to Star. I can’t say she relished it, but she ate it – mission accomplished!

In an attempt to help my friends find something their puppy might be tempted with, I asked on social media what other owners had found their dogs would eat when feeling under the weather and suffering diminished appetite.

The suggestions were varied – scrambled egg, rice sometimes served with chicken and a little warm milk, mashed potato, sausage or hotdogs, gourmet wet dog food, and even pate.
Sometimes, it turns out, it’s not simply what food you offer, but the way in which you present it. One person pointed out that if you want the dog to take medicine-laced food, you first need to give a normal piece of the food in questions, then moved on to one containing the medicine.

Once more, this took me back to the days of trying to get Star to eat. In the mornings, I used toast, which she had always had a taste for, to get her morning painkillers into her – but I had to go about it fairly sneakily, as even toast laden with butter had lost some of its usual appeal. So, I made the toast, cut it into squares, and made sure I knew which ones I had applied the liquid medicine to. Then I would sit and eat one square of toast. By that time Buddy would be showing an interest, so I would pantomime grudgingly giving him a square. By now, Star had spotted that an injustice was occurring and she was being missed out of a treat. Consequently, she would then eat some toast, inadvertently ingesting the medicine which made her life a lot more comfortable.

The day when she finally agreed to eat her usual dog food was a cause for great celebration!

So how did my friends’ pup do in the end? The great news is that she made it. She survived parvo and is now back on course for her happy life, quite possibly in the UK, as a beloved pet. I hope her eventual owner never has cause to worry over her as her devoted fosterers have.
Psychology played a part in getting this pup to eat too. My friends found that when she was on the mend, the best way to encourage her to eat with enthusiasm was to let their cats have access to the food, because then, all of a sudden, the food was very important to the puppy.

So one problem was solved, but of course with dogs, life can be a bit of a white knuckle ride, and after the eating had commenced, it had to be established that the puppy's bowels could cope with the influx of food, so my patient, exhausted friends were then on poo watch!

Ah well, life with dogs certainly isn’t boring is it?

Take care,

Julie xx

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